Canada: Reform Access to Information Act | Joint Letter

Full PDF Version (Joint Letter)

Full PDF Version (LRWC Letter to Joyce Murray)

More than 50 civil society organisations and individuals endorsed an open letter calling on the Liberal Government to reform the Canada’s Access to Information Act in accordance with pledges made during the election and as part of the Open Government Plan announced after the election. Canada currently ranks 49th of 111 countries on global rating of access to information laws.

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A2

The Honourable Scott Brison
President of the Treasury Board
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6


Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

We are writing to you as Canadian organisations and individuals who are committed to ensuring a strong access to information (ATI) system in Canada. As such, we are very troubled by your Government’s announcement last week that there would be delays in terms of bringing forward the reforms to Canada’s Access to Information Act that you have promised. We are, in particular, concerned that, since no clear timeline has been set for these reforms, they may be pushed back indefinitely. We recognise your commitment to open data, but we note that ATI reform is integral to proper realisation of open government.

Many of us have been promoting ATI reform for decades and we are convinced that it is now high time to move forward with reforms. A string of governments of various political stripes have come and gone and yet, despite a very clear need, almost no improvements have been made to Canada’s now seriously outdated ATI Act. We have witnessed a recurring dynamic whereby opposition parties talk boldly about the importance of transparent government, only to jettison those values when they come to power. Your Government is now at serious risk of joining that list, despite your clear, frequently repeated promises of action on this issue.

Furthermore, none of the issues raised as excuses for this delay hold water. Challenges in this regard were identified and understood even before you introduced your Private Member’s Bill  in the last Parliament. It is now time for decisions and moving forward.

We understand that reforms need to be considered carefully. However, this issue has been parsed extensively through several robust processes and consultations. These include the process which led to the publication in 2015 by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Striking the Right Balance for Transparency: Recommendations to modernize the Access to Information Act, which included 85 Recommendations for reform of the ATI Act; the June 2016 report, Review of the Access to Information Act, by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which included 32 recommendations for reform; and numerous submissions and reports by civil society organisations and concerned individuals, including as part of Canada’s participation in the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

Each set of recommendations differs but there is a high degree of consensus on the main reforms which are needed. Several of these were included in the Liberal Party’s campaign promises during the 2015 election. Some of the key areas of reform which we have identified include:

  • Expanding the scope of the Act, including to cover ministerial offices, including the Prime Minister’s Office.
  • Streamlining the procedures for making and processing requests for information, including by formalising in law the fee waivers contained in the May 2016 Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act and by putting in place stronger rules to limit the time taken to respond to requests.
  • Substantially narrowing the exceptions to the right of access, which are currently significantly overbroad and unclear.
  • Giving the Office of the Information Commissioner binding order making powers.
  • Introducing a formal duty to document for public officials, and requiring them preserve records of their decision making.

Your party included ATI Act reform as an important campaign promise and, recently, the Government included it as a commitment in Canada’s 2016-18 OGP Action Plan. We believe that reform of the Act is eminently achievable if there is simply the requisite political will to undertake this important democratic reform. We therefore call on your Government to make a clear and formal commitment to continue to move forward with the reform process and, in particular, to promise that significant reforms will be enacted into law by the end of 2018.


For further information please contact:


Toby Mendel
Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)




  1. Amnesty International Canada (English Branch)
  2. British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
  3. British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BC FIPA)
  4. Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians / l’association Canadienne des bibliothécaires académiques professionnels
  5. Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)
  6. Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW)
  7. Canadian Taxpayers Federation
  8. Canadian Unitarians For Social Justice (CUSJ)
  9. Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
  10. Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Regina
  11. Ecology Action Centre (EAC)
  12. Gerald and Maas
  13. Greenpeace Canada
  14. International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
  15. Isomer Design
  16. Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
  17. Ligue des droits et libertés
  18. MiningWatch Canada
  19. National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)
  20. OpenMedia
  21. Open North
  22. Our Right to Know
  23. Pen Canada
  24. Publish What You Pay Canada
  25. Queer Ontario
  26. RESOLVE Saskatchewan
  27. Rideau Institute
  29. Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
  30. Voices-voix
  31. World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)



  1. Donna Bourne-Tyson, University Librarian, Dalhousie University
  2. Donna Bowman, Librarian
  3. Bruce Campbell, 2016 Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
  4. Anita Cannon, Librarian
  5. Phyllis Creighton, Order of Ontario
  6. Rev. Frances Deverell
  7. Lisa Di Valentino, Law and Public Policy Librarian, University of Massachusetts
  8. Terry Donovan, Public Services Librarian/Copyright Officer, Portage College Library
  9. Peter Duerr, Assistant Librarian, Scott Library, York University
  10. Helen Forsey
  11. Mary Francoli, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
  12. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa
  13. Brydon Gombay
  14. Sean Holman, Assistant Professor Journalism, Mount Royal University
  15. Vincent Kazmierski, Associate Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University
  16. Tim Lash, Ottawa
  17. Abby Lippman, Professor Emerita, McGill University
  18. Marian Ramage, Brandon, Manitoba
  19. Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law, University of Ottawa
  20. Stanley Tromp, Journalist and Author
  21. Mark Weiler, Web & User Experience Librarian, Wilfrid Laurier University
  22. Nancy Wigen

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Joyce Murray, Member of Parliament
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6
Constituency Office
Joyce Murray, Member of Parliament
# 206 2112, West Broadway (Main Office)
Vancouver, BC V6K 2C8

Dear Joyce Murray;

Re: Access to Information Act Reform

We are writing to request a meeting with you to discuss reform of the Access to Information Act.

As you know the Liberal Party pledged both during and after the 2015 election, to amend the Access to Information Act. As yet these critical amendments have not been made. Following, for your information, are references and links to the 4 April 2017 Open letter (attached) and other submissions explaining on the urgent need for reform of the Act.

In April 2017, more than 50 Canada-based civil society organisations and individuals endorsed an open letter[1] calling on the Liberal Government to reform the Canada’s Access to Information Act in accordance with pledges made during the election and as part of the Open Government Plan announced after the election. Canada currently ranks 49th of 111 countries on global rating of access to information laws.  Lawyers’ Right Watch Canada endorsed this letter which was produced by the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

In June 2016 LRWC joined the CLD and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) to submit a series of recommendations[2] for reforming Canada’s Access to Information Act. These recommendations were made in response to the Government of Canada’s post-election invitation for feedback on proposals for the reform of access to information. CLD, LRWC and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) welcomed the reform proposed by the Open Government Plan and made 7 additional recommendations necessary to ensure adequate access to information. CLD, FIPA and LRWC recommended the Act be amended to: eliminate access and requesting fees; limit delay and create a duty of timely response; extend the scope of the Act; extend the right to request information to all people; grant the Information Commissioner the power to make binding orders; replace exclusions with exception subject to a harm and public interest override; and, allow dismissal of frivolous or vexatious request.

In September 2015 20 NGOs including the CLD, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the BC-based BC Civil Liberties Association, FIPA, LRWC, and Open Media endorsed an open letter[3] calling for improved access to information as a vital part of democracy. The letter called on all federal parties to support amendments to the Access to Information Act necessary to: expand the mandate of the Office of the Information Commissioner, repeal blanket exceptions, ensure application of the Act to all federal departments and officials, and, require public officials to document and preserve communications preparatory to decision making.

In September 2012 the CLD, CJFE, FIPA, LRWC and PEN Canada filed submissions[4] on freedom of expression in Canada with the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights for consideration on the Universal Periodic Review of Canada’s compliance with its international human rights obligations.

All the recommendations in the above referenced communications and submissions have been ignored, first by the Conservative government and now by the Liberals. In September 2012 Canada ranked a shameful 51st of 89 states and now ranks 49th of the 111 states assessed, having slipped from 58th to the 45th percentile.[5]

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to seek your support for the reforms identified and to explore how the requesting organizations might assist in the reform process.

Thank you.



Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC

[1] Reform Access to Information, 3 April 2017.

[2] Recommendations for Reforming Canada’s Access to Information Act, CLD, FIPA & LRWC, June 2016.

[3] NGOs Call for Improved Access to Information and Amendments to the Access to Information Act, September 2015.

[4] Submission to the 16th Session of the Universal Periodic Review on the State of Freedom of Expression in Canada, October 2012 by CLD, LRWC, FIPA, PEN Canada and CJFEX.

[5] The International RTI Rating assesses each state’s legal framework according to 61 indicators. The Global Right to Information ratings can be accessed